Welcome to this year’s Top 25 Under 25 series. If you’re unfamiliar, we’re going player-by-player in a ranking of the top 25 Minnesota Wild players that are under the age of 25. It’s fairly simple. Enjoy!
When Nesterenko was drafted in the sixth round of the 2019 draft, expectations were far from consistent. However, even after having a solid post-draft year in the BCHL, it is highly unlikely that many predicted the noise he would make in his first year at Boston College. Jumping onto the scene with a roster packed with Wild draft picks, Nesterenko quickly earned the trust of Hall of Fame Coach Jerry York. By the time the season was over, Nesterenko hovered close to a point-a-game and was named Hockey East Rookie of the Year.
Returning for his second year at BC with a much more humble forward core, questions circled as to whether Nesterenko would be able to fill the shoes of Matt Boldy and Alex Newhook as a dynamic offensive weapon. Just like the rest of his team, Nesterenko’s year did not live up to the expectations his first campaign had set. His point production dropped off, he found himself in the penalty box far more than he should have, and he even saw himself slide down the lineup as Jerry York desperately tried to find pairings that worked.
For a player that has demonstrated extreme upside, especially for a sixth round pick, Wild fans should hesitate before even reaching towards a panic button on Nesterenko. Last season was a mess for all of Boston College, posting their worst record in the 21st century. With Jerry York retiring and highly-touted Greg Brown entering as his replacement, expect Nesterenko to have a new fire lit under him and return to the play that his freshman year exposed.
While the BCHL is a competitive league, few players make the transition to the NCAA with the success that Nesterenko did (especially considering his BCHL numbers weren’t that extravagant). His first year at Boston College was aided by those around him; his linemates mostly consisted of current and soon-to-be NHL players. Even so, Nesterenko proved he could both distribute and finish.
His sophomore campaign was his first test of being the type of player that he benefitted from the year before. While the points fell off the cliff, the most extreme jump was his penalty minutes. Nesterenko, time and time again, took costly penalties for the Eagles. While some of this was likely due to the frustration of the team’s disappointing performances, this will need to disappear from his game if he wants to get a look at the next level.
Nesterenko has the skills to be a point-a-game player in Hockey East, so it will be exciting to see if he can piece it all together and have a dominant junior year.
Roll the Tape
Nesterenko is a highlight reel player. When he is at his best, he can be the most skilled player on the ice. Paired with good size and great skating, he has the physical elements that make a successful NHL player.
Nesterenko can sometimes fall victim to trying to do too much. In my opinion, this is just a symptom of his ridiculous amount of skill with the puck. When he is at his best, demonstrated in the above clip, he possesses great poise and control.
On top of his physical ability and puck skills, he has a quick release that often catches goalies by surprise. If his accuracy continues to improve, the goals will follow.
Nesterenko, despite a down year, is already overperforming his draft position. He has all of the tools to be a top-13 forward in an NHL organization. To get there, he will need to put them all together for an extended period of time. Many of the issues that plagued Nesterenko’s game last season are very solvable and were likely worsened by the disappointing season his team had.
This year, he will be looked to as a primary piece of a Boston College team that has a lot to prove. With better pieces around him, including fifth overall pick Cutter Gauthier, expect to Nesterenko return to the trajectory he established in 2020-2021.
Hockey Wilderness 2022 Top 25 Under 25
25. Mason Shaw, C/LW
22. Hunter Haight, C
21. Nikita Nesternenko, C